Reuters Global Oil Forum discussion

Global Oil Forum discussion, Sept. 3 2014: Middle East Risk

14:00:04   Christopher Johnson  Oil Forum Discussion: Middle East Risk 

Welcome to our weekly oil forum discussion on the outlook for the Middle East and its oil industries

14:00:41   Christopher Johnson  Today we have a very distinguished panel with us:

  • Samuel Ciszuk, senior security adviser to the Swedish Energy Agency
  •                                                             Andrew Hammond, Middle East policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations 
  • Scott Lucas, professor of American Studies of the University of Birmingham and founding editor of EA WorldView
  • Jordan Perry, principal analyst, Middle East and North Africa, at risk consultancy Maplecroft
  • Hannah Poppy, senior Middle East intelligence analyst at the Risk Advisory Group
14:00:49   Christopher Johnson  Hello everyone

14:01:09   Christopher Johnson

And   a few more MENA analysts in the audience, I can see

14:01:24   Adriano Ranelli                  hello everyone

14:01:27   Scott Lucas                          Afternoon everyone

14:01:35   Hannah Poppy                Hi everyone

14:02:04   Jordan Perry                  Good afternoon, everyone

14:02:52   Christopher Johnson  Perhaps we should start today, given   the dominant headlines, with Syria?

14:03:13   Christopher Johnson  How should we read this latest   execution?

14:03:37   Christopher Johnson  Will it change the framework of   engagement at all?

14:03:57   Scott Lucas                                                @Christopher — Wider context is   that it is a sign that Islamic State is under pressure in Iraq

14:04:01   Scott Lucas                         And is worried about   it

14:04:01   Christopher Johnson  What is the IS strategy here?

14:04:05   Christopher   Johnson  Other   than generating headlines?

14:04:11   Scott Lucas In   addition to being checked in advance in Syria
14:04:32   Scott Lucas They   can benefit in one of two contrasting ways:
14:04:46   Scott Lucas 1)   Deter US from airstrikes and support of Kurdish-Iraqi counter-offensive
14:04:57   Scott Lucas or   2) Draw US into full-blown ground intervention
14:05:09   Scott Lucas In   Iraq
14:05:50   Jordan Perry @Scott,   @Christopher – in connection with Scott’s two points, I think the provocative   nature of these killings should be underscored
14:06:28   Jordan Perry IS   has clearly demonstrated its savvy ability to manipulate both social and   print media
14:07:08   Jordan Perry It’s   interesting Scott, that you explicitly referred to the group “generating   headlines”
14:07:11   Scott Lucas @Jordan   — Agreed, but I think they are at risk of a backfire with the presentation   of brutality
14:07:21   Jordan Perry I   would say that this is one of the main thrusts of the killings
14:07:26   Scott Lucas And   they got “scooped” on this execution before they could roll out   their PR campaign
14:07:54   Jordan Perry It   is to provide a platform through which to connect still further with Western   would-be Jihadis
14:07:59   Scott Lucas @Jordan   — But do they risk alienating local communities in Iraq and Syria with   this?
14:08:11   Scott Lucas And   thus risk a stable base for their area of rule?
14:08:59   Jordan Perry And   to provoke the US and its allies into further airstrikes – which does little   materiel damage to the amorphous nature of IS, but acts as a clarion call to   recruits
14:09:08   Jordan Perry @Scott   – absolutely


14:09:31   Jordan Perry There are a lot of questions surrounding the   longevity/viability of the “Islamic State”
14:10:03   Jordan Perry I think, in the longer term, loss of some of the main Sunni   tribal actors in northern Iraq could be its undoing
14:10:28   Jordan Perry As well as its dubious ability to defend its territory in   light of the West arming the Kurds
14:11:02   Scott Lucas I think IS is at risk if its image of success is punctured
14:11:20   Scott Lucas Both in Iraq (Mosul Dam and Amerli as cases in last 2   weeks) and in Syria
14:11:27   Hannah Poppy @Scott exactly, so it has to keep up the momentum of   attacks/offensives/violence
14:12:01   Scott Lucas @Hannah — Where next in Iraq?
14:12:13   Hannah Poppy @Scott good question
14:12:17   Jordan Perry @Scott, Hannah – also, the Kurdish Peshmerga have made some   important gains in the last couple of days
14:12:18   Scott Lucas (In Syria, we’re watching IS attack on regime airport in   Deir Ez Zor in east)
14:12:30   Hannah Poppy the options for new offensives in Iraq are narrowing
14:12:44   Scott Lucas
14:12:57   Jordan Perry Bringing the fight back to IS not just in Amerli, but also   in places like Zumar in the north west
14:13:08   Hannah Poppy personally I think that they may fall back on car bombings   in major cities
14:13:25   Scott Lucas @Hannah @Jordan — Meanwhile are we looking at   counter-offensive against Tikrit and/or Mosul?
14:13:57   Hannah Poppy @scott not convinced the Iraqi army can manage either yet
14:14:16   Hannah Poppy reports today of another attempt to take Tikrit last night   though
14:14:21   Jordan Perry @Scott There have been clashes on off in Tikrit since its   capture in June, including several short-lived offensives
14:15:03   Jordan Perry I think IS will continue to lose territory to the Peshmerga   and ISF, but…
14:15:36   Jordan Perry ….they have demonstrated   their ability to slow down or prevent these gains through various tricks –   some of which have prevented their foes from re-capturing


14:15:47   Jordan Perry Booby trapping buildings, for example
14:16:13   Hannah Poppy @Jordan the   way I see it IS has two categories of territory- 1. core areas like Mosul

2. areas it attacks to distract ISF from core areas

14:16:17   Jordan Perry In Jalula in the eastern governorate of Doyala – near the   Peshmerga/IS frontline – the Peshmerga have been weighed down by these   hazards
14:16:23   Jordan Perry *Diyala
14:16:40   Scott Lucas @Jordan @Hannah — Good points
14:16:59   Scott Lucas Watching Tikrit to see if there is more coordination of   ground offensive with aerial campaign, including outside actors
14:17:08   Jordan Perry @Hannah – yes. IIS relies on its mobility to quickly   concentrate for attack in some areas, make temporary gains on its periphery –   but it’s questionable how long they can retain these areas
14:17:19   Jordan Perry A sort of ‘dynamic stalemate’ emerging, if you will
14:17:26   Hannah Poppy @Jordan exactly
14:18:21   Jordan Perry I think that the US and its allies can make the biggest   difference through arming the Peshmerga and other proxies on the ground
14:19:03   Jordan Perry One of the main challenges with airstrikes is what to hit
14:19:22   Hannah Poppy But   also ISF morale is very important. They need some big wins. Hence the   coverage of Amerli
14:19:25   Jordan Perry So you take out a few humvees now and again – so what?   That’s not going to stop


14:20:07   Jordan Perry Bombing somewhere like Mosul is clearly off the table   because of the risk to civilians and the need to win hearts and minds amongst   the Sunni population
14:20:48 Jordan Perry The inflow of   arms to the Kurds, though, I think has been making a difference – and

has supported their gains in places like Zumar and the east of the country

14:20:55 Jordan Perry *been
14:22:45   Hannah Poppy interestingly one rumour a contact told me about is that   the Peshmerga planned its loss of northern towns on purpose, to get the US to   intervene & give them money
14:22:59   Scott Lucas @Hannah   @Jordan — I think IS has got a problem with the tension between being a   “State” and an “insurgent organization”
14:23:26   Jordan Perry @Scott Yes, and a lot of costs come with being a   pesudo-state
14:23:27   Scott Lucas They need money and structure to run Mosul and Tikrit, as   well as Raqqa in Syria
14:23:30   Hannah Poppy whether or not its true, shows how important they have   become for anyone hoping to back the fight against IS
14:23:45   Scott Lucas They seems to have funds but they are very short on   manpower
14:23:57   Scott Lucas If they lose Sunni tribes, I think they are in trouble
14:24:01   Jordan Perry A   lot ios made about the wealth of IS – which, for an insurgent group, ranks it   as one of the top in the world
14:24:35   Scott Lucas @Jordan — Agreed, but you have to be able to tie that   wealth to infrastructure and development
14:24:48   Jordan Perry Some estimates point to as much as US$3 million a day in   terms of local oil sales etc. – which would place it as wealthy if not more   wealthy than pre-2001 Taliban
14:25:16   Hannah Poppy @Scott @Jordan and a lot of the local/international NGOs   have apparently left

(people were relying on them for food etc)

14:25:24   Jordan Perry @Scott – exactly the point I was going to drive at – but   part of this wealth needs to be put into running a pseudo-state
14:25:39   Scott Lucas @Jordan — Look for that number to fall as the   infrastructure of the oilfields erodes and production falls
14:25:57   Jordan Perry Mosul is a good example, where sources indicate there has   been electricity and water shortages
14:26:14   Jordan Perry Providing public services may be a secondary aim for IS,   but….
14:26:35   Christopher Johnson  Do the latest twists in Syria/Iraq   change the oil equation at all?

14:26:51   Jordan Perry                                                       ….they will need to do so   in order to maintain the mainstream Sunni “lesser of two evils”   perception versus Baghdad

14:27:06   Christopher Johnson  Is oil production and export   capacity still basically safe in Iraq at least?

14:27:21   Christopher Johnson  Although I understand that IS is   controlling quite a lot of Syrian oil?

14:27:24   Jordan Perry  So far, some Sunni tribal   federations have lumped their support with IS – not least because they hated   Maliki

14:27:58   Jordan Perry                                                       But with Maliki now out of   power (at least in the conventional sense), this obstacle to collaboration   with Baghdad has been removed

14:28:12   Jordan Perry                That’s not to say I’m hopeful   about PM-designate Haider al-Abadi

14:28:13   Samuel Ciszuk                                           hi all, just weighing in on oil question briefly before have to   rush: yes, oil appears safe for now

14:28:45   Scott Lucas                         Agreed with Sam on   Iraqi oil

14:28:47   Samuel Ciszuk    …as panelists have been saying, there is a bit of a stalemate   which has developed

14:28:58   Hannah Poppy                                                      @Christopher I   think the south is still ok in terms of attacks (the threat is still there   but no higher now than before)

14:28:59   Scott Lucas                        IS is selling oil from   Syrian fields in east

14:29:08   Jordan Perry                                                       @Samuel – it’s correct that   IS controls about 60% of Syria’s (albeit small) oil supply? That’s an   estimate I’ve seen bandied around

14:29:10   Samuel Ciszuk                                           and IS seems to lack the power to move into, particularly deep   into, Shi’a territory in Iraq.

14:29:12   Scott Lucas                         But no evidence of   long-term sustained production

14:29:59   Samuel Ciszuk                                           it would require them to shift gears seriously military   power-wise, so to speak. Probably beyond capability for now

14:30:50   Jordan Perry                @Samuel, Scott: also, there is   the question of whether IS has the technical know

how. I understand they very recently appointed their own oil ‘minister’ 14:30:51 Christopher Johnson  So unlikely for the short-term anyway?

14:30:54   Samuel Ciszuk  @Jordan: Yes, but they cannot do   much with it as they lack the spare parts, engineers etc needed. Not to speak   of the relevant off take capacity (pipes)

14:31:30   Samuel Ciszuk  basically they can get a few   thousand barrels per day out perhaps and sell through complex chains of   middlemen to buyers
14:32:08   Jordan Perry            @Samuel:   yes – it seems that in Iraq at least, of the seven or so fields they control   production is much lower than one would normally expect – about half for each
14:32:12   Samuel Ciszuk  like any one having to launder money   or stolen goods, they receive much less then the listed price for Syrian   crude (whatever that is, since it is not broadly traded anymore)
14:32:36   Jordan Perry            Yes,   a significant discount on Iraq oil, for example.
14:32:45   Samuel Ciszuk  @Jordan: Yes, although if it remains   even at 50% for any longer time, I would be surprised
14:33:13   Hannah Poppy              One   thing bearing in mind for the southern Iraqi oil fields is that in the   absence of

effective security forces, a non-terrorism incident could spook companies/prompt evacuations

14:33:30   Christopher Johnson  @ Sam. Sorry what does the 50% refer to?

14:33:37   Samuel Ciszuk   @Jordan: few buyers had the capacity for Syria’s rather particular crudes before

the war and most of them were in EU. They are not buying, which is why most of it in the end ends up bought by the Syrian regime 14:33:58   Samuel Ciszuk  @Christopher: 50% of field capacity. production level 14:34:12   Christopher Johnson  In Syria?

14:34:23   Jordan Perry                                                        @Samuel – yes – I’ve heard claims that the Syrian regime is buying IS oil in return for protection from airstrikes and the like.

14:34:55   Samuel Ciszuk    I have seen numbers brandied around that IS controls about 70-80 000 b/d of

production capacity, but in reality I would doubt production in their territory to be much above 25 000 b/d and rapidly shrinking

14:34:58   Jordan Perry  @Christopher – in IS-controlled fields in Iraq, at least from my understanding 14:35:14   Christopher Johnson  tks

14:35:20   Scott Lucas                         @Jordan — The oil was being traded because Syrian regime needs it

14:35:30   Scott Lucas                          But bust-up since June complicates the arrangements

14:36:02   Jordan Perry                I think it highlights the interesting relationship between IS and al-Assad

14:36:15   Samuel Ciszuk    @Jordan: I doubt there is much of political deals surrounding those sales, although

it might have happened. Most likely there will have been two or more middlemen between IS and Assad regime anyway… loaded trucks being sold individually to a local authority for instance, which needs fuel.

14:36:24   Samuel Ciszuk  but it could have happened… 14:36:35   Christopher Johnson  Talking of oil …

14:36:40   Christopher Johnson  Can I ask about Saudi Arabia?

14:36:53   Christopher Johnson  We have had the first confirmed attack this week on an oil/gas facility for many years

14:36:55   Christopher Johnson  What was behind Monday’s attack, which resulted in a “small fire” at a gas pipeline in the Eastern Province?

14:37:02   Christopher Johnson  Who were the assailants?

14:37:08   Christopher Johnson  Any views?

14:37:15   Christopher Johnson  Shi’ite? Sunni Islamists?

14:37:36   Hannah Poppy                                                    Nothing confirmed yet, but armed attacks on police/sec forces there are not uncommon

14:37:43   Hannah Poppy              specifically in that area

14:37:58   Andrew Hammond                            Hi all – seems to me that because it was a small-scale attack, it was perhaps local Shia. Sunni jihadists would likely have made a bigger effort.

14:38:04   Samuel Ciszuk                                         @Christopher: Very hard to say whether the official Saudi story re stray bullet was full picture or not

14:38:31   Scott Lucas                          Beyond this incident, what is latest on Shia protests & discontent in EP?

14:38:46 Jordan Perry         Isn’t there a possibility that the assailants could have been tribes disgruntled with the authorities?

14:38:56 Samuel Ciszuk                                           in any case it does not seem like it was a very important pipeline, more for local gas network

14:39:18   Andrew Hammond                            One potential motive among the local population is the case of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr – any day now news should come of whether a death penalty will be applied or not. Though the attackers could be jumping the gun since we don’t know yet.

14:39:27   Jordan Perry                  Attacks in Egypt and Yemen indicating similar incidents point to tribal involvement

14:39:31   Samuel Ciszuk                                         Which means it is perhaps too much to see this as a significant escalation. If we see another one, then perhaps we should raise the threat level … so to speak

14:39:46   Hannah Poppy             @Jordan in this case it’s still not clear if the pipeline was the target

14:39:56   Andrew Hammond                            It could well be tribal, though we haven’t really seen that before in that region.

14:40:00   Christopher Johnson  Saudi Arabia said yesterday it detained 88 people, more than half Saudis, on suspicion of plotting “terrorist” attacks at home and abroad 14:40:10   Christopher Johnson  Significant?

14:40:38   Samuel Ciszuk   @Christopher: Yes, but not changing the existing picture in my view

14:41:00   Hannah Poppy                                                    @Christopher don’t know if this applies in this case, but often these announcements clump together lots of different arrests

14:41:11   Hannah Poppy             making it seem like more of a big deal than it is

14:41:12   Samuel Ciszuk                                         a draconian security clamp down has been largely successful to minimise the occurrence of attacks in a country rife with support for militant Salafism

14:41:15   Andrew Hammond                            There is pressure on the Saudi government to show that it is making progress against Sunni Jihadists, pressure from the US government. These statements are always suspiciously vague.

14:41:37   Jordan Perry  @Christopher – would agree with Samuel. Nothing to suggest this is any different from routine Saudi response to such incidents 14:41:45   Samuel Ciszuk  @Andrew: Good pint! 14:41:52   Samuel Ciszuk

point, of course

14:42:47   Christopher Johnson  So not linked to what is going on elsewhere in the region as far as we can tell?

14:42:50   Jordan Perry                                                        @Andrew – I think also that the revival of Houthi insurgency in Yemen over the last few months will also again become an acute concern for the Saudi authorities

14:42:54   Andrew Hammond                            On the pressure to show results issue – I think it’s largely why KSA, UAE and Bahrain more or less completely caved over their dispute with Qatar this week

14:43:27   Andrew Hammond                             @Jordan – absolutely, agree

14:43:46   Scott Lucas                          @Christopher — The attack is not linked to the regional issues

14:44:06   Christopher Johnson  @ Jordan: How is Saudi Arabia likely to respond to what is happening in Yemen?

14:44:07   Scott Lucas                                                The Saudi response, showing firm line with detentions, is linked to concern over Syria and Iraq

14:44:39   Hannah Poppy              @Christopher Saudi is already heavily involved in events in Yemen

14:44:46   Samuel Ciszuk   @Andrew: what is you view on where next in the intra-GCC spat with Qatar?

14:44:59   Hannah Poppy              working through diplomatic channels to get the Houthis to back down

14:45:01   Jordan Perry                                                        @Andrew – I think KSA may be especially worried not just by the gains the made in northern Yemen earlier this year but by this campaign of civil disobedience the Houthi leadership has called for

14:45:05   Andrew Hammond                            Saudi government has certainly taken a tougher line publicly on the ISIS issue in recent weeks.

14:45:42   Andrew Hammond                             @Jordan that’s a good point – return of protests in the Gulf; not good

14:45:47   Jordan Perry                                                        This could further destabilise the alreday fragile transition in Yemen – and re-open a Pandora’s Box of security concerns for Saudi

14:46:42   Andrew Hammond                            @samuel I think the spat is really set aside for now. the UAE were very gung-ho, up

to the last moment. Then suddenly the unofficial and official tweeters and columnists completely changed tune. I think Saudi Arabia put its foot down.

14:47:57   Andrew Hammond                            Bottom line: Qatar keeps Saudi political issues out of Arab media space, a service

its provided since 2007. Its reporting on Egypt is provocative but Riyadh can – just –

stomach it. for now

14:48:14 Andrew Hammond                              I mean Al Jazeera, mainly.

14:48:41   Jordan Perry                @Andrew – I thought the connection you made with Nimr al-Nimr was interesting. I

wonder if there was any evidence of such sabotage attacks on infrastrcuture following his shooting/arrest back in 2012?

14:49:49   Jordan Perry                 @Christopher – sorry, just saw your question on the Houthis

14:50:09   Andrew Hammond                            I can’t recall that there was, though I might be wrong. In Wikileaks, such small-scale attacks on pipelines by local Shia are a constant fear of the Interior Ministry

14:50:32   Samuel Ciszuk   @Andrew: Yes, my impression too. But then will they just put the spat in the

freezer and live with withdrawn ambassadors for some time, or do you think there might be a move for official reconciliation? there are pros and cons for both Saudi and Qatar with making up

14:50:42   Jordan Perry                                                        I think it’s possible that if they make further gains in northern Yemen which again threaten Saudi border, they could step up military intervention on the frontier – as they have in the past

14:50:52   Andrew Hammond                            If it is connected to Nimr, it would be a kind of warning. His execution could reignite the streets.

14:51:14   Jordan Perry                                                        Saudi has also been accused of funding armed Salafists that have waged a conflict with the Houthis

14:52:17   Andrew Hammond                            @Samuel I think the UAE will be really loath to send their ambassador back, perhaps it won’t h happen. The signs are that the governments are still arguing about it.

14:53:28   Samuel Ciszuk                                         @Andrew: Yes, I think this probably will go on for a long time, but be allowed to fester in the background

14:53:54   Hannah Poppy                                                    @Jordan I think that Saudi has actually played a stabilising role in Yemen recently. Pressuring everyone but the Houthis to back down of fuel prices for example

14:55:05   Hannah Poppy                                                    @Andrew do you think that Shia activists are able to mobilise in numbers in Saudi any more? It’s been pretty quiet.

14:55:37   Jordan Perry                                                        @Hannah – yes, but I think for a long time they have been a sectarian actor who has put protecting their border or clobbering Shia militants like the Houthis above preserving security unity in Yemen

14:57:32   Andrew Hammond                            @Hannah I doubt it really; I think a return to large numbers on the street really depends on events in Bahrain. general trend remains downwards after protest high of 2011

14:57:51   Hannah Poppy              @Andrew completely agreed

14:58:34   Christopher Johnson  So not much to worry about at the moment for the oil industry?

14:58:50   Christopher Johnson  (apologies for bringing this back to the LCD) 14:59:15   Scott Lucas  @Christopher — Apart from daily chaos? 14:59:21   Christopher Johnson

14:59:24   Jordan Perry                                                        Same story as in previous weeks in Iraq – threat to the Basra Gulf and the vast majority of production remains limited. Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline to Turkey in the north will remain offline, though

14:59:27   Andrew Hammond                            Re Saudi: in medium term from second wind of Jihadism inspired by ISIS

14:59:35   Scott Lucas                          I would think that there are specific issues such as Libya

14:59:46   Scott Lucas                          Which may be more important than the Islamic State threat

14:59:53   Christopher Johnson  yes

15:00:26   Jordan Perry                                                        @Scott – yes, the threats to business posed by escalation in Libya has been downplayed, I feel

15:00:32   Scott Lucas                                                And question in Iraq is long-term arrangements, e.g. between Baghdad and Kurdistan

15:01:17   Scott Lucas                           (I’m sure Iran would be glad to ease concerns by putting more oil on the market….)

15:01:20   Jordan Perry                 @Scott – yes, whether the Kurds can make better headway with al-Abadi at the

helm – and whether al-Abdi can win over moderate Sunnis in the north which could

help cripple IS advance

15:01:42 Hannah Poppy                                                      @Scott yes for me the KRG question is still at the top of the list in terms of risks/opportunities for the sector

15:02:25   Christopher Johnson  @ Hannah: just picking up on that comment on KRG quickly …

15:02:46   Christopher Johnson  risks/opportunities are where mainly in KRG?

15:03:48   Christopher Johnson  Maybe we should talk about that next time?

15:04:00   Hannah Poppy              yes, good starter question for next time!

15:04:06   Jordan Perry                 @Christopher – from risks perspective, I would say the older fields surrounding

Kirkuk. Quite near the IS-Peshmerga frontline

15:04:07   Christopher Johnson  Many thanks everyone for a fascinating discussion

15:04:14   Hannah Poppy               thanks everyone

15:04:20   Jordan Perry                 Cheers

15:04:30   Alex Lawler         thanks!

15:04:35   Simon Falush      Thanks much!

15:05:32   Christopher Johnson  I will make a pdf copy of this discussion  If anyone would like a copy, please email me: 15:06:03   Scott Lucas  Thanks everybody….


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